An Encounter with the Great Interrupter

by Marilyn on June 18, 2014

train tracks

Two years ago my brother and his wife had an encounter with the Great Interrupter. In their case the encounter put them in a place of selling a home of over 15 years, leaving a church of the same, leaving a community where they have loved hard and been loved back, and leaving the only home their children remember. They embarked on a mid-life journey to begin a life in the Middle East. Like a train heading one direction only to switch mid-journey to another set of tracks, so was their interruption. Who needs a mid-life crisis when the Great Interrupter is in your life?

As a community at A Life Overseas we know intimately about these encounters with the Great Interrupter. When your life seems to be heading one way, the trajectory clear, and then in a slow but steady encounter with the Great Interrupter you realize that your life is being disturbed. No longer can you settle comfortably in the familiar because the voice of the Great Interrupter is strong and powerful, compelling if not always clear.

These interruptions are not easy. There are the myriad of details that boggle the mind and include everything from the first announcement made to friends and colleagues to changing lights so that the bathroom will be more acceptable for the realtor. Details that include sorting through children’s elementary school papers and art projects, dusty from storage, to giving away furniture. There are garage sales and goodbyes, more sorting and midnight tears; there are the tense arguments that burst forth unexpectedly when everything seemed to be going so well. There are the endless “What do we keep?” “What do we take?”  “How can we possibly do this?”

And then there are the pets. In my brother’s case there was the giving up of a cat to their newly married daughter, knowing that Shasta would no longer watch them from her perch on the chair or window. And the “lasts” — the last Thanksgiving in this particular house, the last Christmas, the last __________.(Just fill in the blank.) How I hate “lasts”. The finality puts a nervous pit in the stomach.  But through all this, the interruptions continue and the Great Interrupter continues to guide, and push, and remind us in whispers and in shouts that none of this is possible without His direction and great love.

Throughout history God has interrupted people’s lives, moving them from comfort to the unknown and asking them to trust along the way. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and more are in the ranks of those whose lives were interrupted and who walked in faith. They lived in a world without cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They didn’t even have the pony express. Leaving and saying good-bye was final.

As I watched my brother and sister-in-law I saw a quiet trust that sustained them. It reminded me and other observers that when God as the Great Interrupter is involved, although it may not make sense to some,  you are in a safety zone  and your soul can rest in this knowledge. For with great interruption comes great expectation.

Have you encountered God as the Great Interrupter? What is the story of your interruption? Join us by telling your story in the comments. 

This post is specifically dedicated to Laura Parker and Angie Washington, the two women who came together to start this online community, both of whom have had major encounters with the Great Interrupter these past few months. Thank you for your heart for all of us, more so for your heart for God.

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/seemed-track-threshold-train-soft-102073/

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About Marilyn

An adult third culture kid, Marilyn grew up in Pakistan and then raised her own 5 third culture kids in Pakistan and Egypt. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts 15 minutes from the international terminal. She works with underserved, minority communities as a public health nurse and flies to the Middle East & Pakistan as often as possible. She is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and you can find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.
  • Dr. Kris

    Thank you for giving me a new name for God. So true.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Thank you for these words. I have taken to using these quite frequently as well. We just need to learn it in Hebrew so it sounds legit!

  • Robynn Bliss

    We have been interrupted recently. My husband’s father died a couple of months ago. After much extended family discussion and agonizing stalemates it has been decided that we will move and my mother in law (who lives with Parkinson’s disease) will move in with us. I will become the primary care giver. This is an interruption. We are now in the throes of house inspections and bank appraisals. Book shelves are half empty. We are surrounded by boxes –obnoxious and cardboard. I always said i would never move from this house unless Jesus summoned us to Mongolia or some other far away place. I guess this is what My Mongolia looks like. My life will dramatically change. My writing will likely be suspended. Opportunities to teach and speak will likely need to be turned down. I find myself a little confused by the Great Interrupter.I’m questioning his thought processes. I don’t doubt this unexpected calling to “Mongolia”— it just wasn’t what I was expecting and I’m struggling to come to grips with what it means and what it doesn’t mean.

    • Carolyn Reimer

      Hugs coming your way, Robynn! Thank you for being willing to look after your mom-in-law … it is likely to be very difficult, but I know that God will bless you incredibly along the way. I pray that God provides you with the “perfect” house to make this care the easiest possible. Wishing I was closer to help you out!

      • Marilyn Gardner

        Love this – this is what community online should be.

      • Robynn Bliss

        Oh thank you Carolyn. …I appreciate your love and prayers. …

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Loving you from here Robynn. So.much.interruption. It’s like you want to shout at God what you do to your kids “Don’t interrupt! It’s rude!” Only to realize that in the middle of the interruptions is something mysteriously important about faith and trust and God being completely unpredictable and utterly faithful. My heart is with you.

      • Robynn Bliss

        You understand me. Thank you for being my friend.

  • Kim

    This post really struck a chord with me; it’s what happened to us back in 2000. We were happy doing what we were doing, part of which included youth ministry in our home church. Then God took us to Africa for a year. Africa?! Seriously? My husband was fluent in Spanish so we’d always thought that if God called us anywhere, it would be to Latin America. As it turned out, Africa was just a way-station and a few years later we were indeed in Latin America. I turned 50 a few months after we moved here, and trying to learn a new language at such an age is NOT easy. I still struggle with the language and probably always will, but it’s only a small piece of what God is doing. Now that mission boards have opened up their ranks to older folks, we are seeing the Great Interrupter move more and more of us out to the far corners of the world.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      OH Kim! Did you have a cat named Shasta as well?! This is so like my brother and sister-in-law’s story.. Minus the Spanish, and minus the Africa but you know what I mean 🙂 Thank you for your story of the Great Interrupter.

  • Richelle Wright

    I love the picture of the train tracks… We were set to spend the rest of our lives on the back side of the desert in W. Africa. We loved our house (only two years old and built with our gang in mind), the kitchen/great room was to die for, so much room for our kids to run and play, all the pets (in glorious number and variety) their little and not so little hearts desired, an infinite sandbox to play in, hubby’s place of ministry just a stone’s throw away, me finally finding my place in ministry to within the expat community, local African church – with an exciting future we were discussing with our pastor and his wife, and professionally consulting with local teachers who wanted to do more… and then God unsettled my hubby’s heart, interrupted his dreams and plans and hopes for our future. Which meant that hubby then interrupted mine… and together, we interrupted our kids… and its been painful, heartbreaking, tearful, messy.

    It is hard when you have a vision and God says, “Yes. That is a great vision, but it isn’t My vision for you…” I keep thinking of David and his dream to build a dwelling place for God, but God said no.

    In some ways, it would be easier if this interruption was taking us to the familiar different – another place in W. Africa, another developing world sort of place. Instead, we are going to a diametrically different and we’re all apprehensive but plugging forward step by step, little by little -both scared and excited, grieving while rejoicing.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Oh Richelle – this post should be dedicated to YOU! Please accept this informal dedication. My heart so connects with your story – would love to sit down together and hear more. Thank you for your voice in this community. Thank you for the mature trust that shines through all you write, all you comment, all you say. It is a gift.

  • Katie @ HopeIsCalling.com

    My interruptions began when I learned about Katie – the one who later wrote Katie’s Kisses, whom I’m sure you know about. My name is Katie, too, and somehow that made her story hit more.

    I knew I was not called to go to Uganda or off anywhere for various reasons, but I found myself saying, God where are the forgotten in MY life and area of influence? He pointed out the nursing home around the corner.

    I’m now 4 years into this, and I now volunteer at 3 nursing homes… I play and sing the old hymns with the residents, who LOVE to sing along with me. It amazes me how easy and fun it is to bring them such joy.

    And now He’s interrupting me yet again by bringing hurting and lost teen girls into my life, and I’m asking for the grace to follow His lead, as He’s simultaneously telling me to simplify my life… even as He keeps bringing more into it.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Huge – huge Katie! Mother Teresa says about finding Calcutta
      “You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.” So there you go Katie – you found your Calcutta.

  • bets

    Our story started after the birth of our first child and the building of our suburban home just outside of Nashville. Then, in the blink of an eye, we found ourselves called out to re-enter college, study and train for missions aviation. We sold it all and moved to the Pacific Northwest…that was 8 years ago. We thought we’d graduate and go to South Africa but after taking a ministry/vision trip we discovered that God had plans for us elsewhere. Turns out we’re heading toward the Arctic! Now we are ready but we wait…doing the pre-field start-up phase of support raising phase; which in my estimation is the unspoken gauntlet that every missionary must encounter… like nursing is to childbirth…the shock and awe of it all goes largely undiscussed….this phase has been one of the larger more difficult interruptions as (at ages 35 & 37) we’ve quit our corporate jobs and stepped into ministry. In my estimation the interruptions don’t seem to stop, especially if i see them as interruptions. I’m sure I’m not alone in realizing that a life lived and directed by God, although not formulaic, is a rich life indeed.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      This is a great story – I’ve always had a secret desire to be in mission aviation so it spurred my imagination no end. I love what you say about how this doesn’t stop and never will. It’s about obedience and a life lived within that obedience. It includes long wait times and big surprises and at the end – it is as you say “a rich life indeed” – so thank you. and I love the picture. Wouldn’t take it down even if I could :

      • bets

        Thanks Marilyn for the encouragement! 🙂 -bets

  • I’ve been interrupted several times. Once when I planned on heading to South Africa to serve, and God led me to Portugal instead. I was completely surprised by that one, as was everyone around me. The second time was when I had to leave South Africa for security reasons, and God didn’t lead me back there. Instead, I headed back to Portugal again. And now I’m in Ireland. The country I was most passionate about, South Africa, is the country where I served the least amount of time. However, looking back I can see how God was using all of the interruptions to prepare me for what I’m doing now. But I’ll admit that it is hard not to wonder when the next interruption will occur.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      This reminded me of being in Pakistan and suddenly getting notice that I was being deported. It was a huge shock. So much so that at first we laughed it off only to realize it was dead serious. And the thing is – in retrospect we can see so much. But during the interruptions it can be so tough. Thanks for your honesty about that. If all life was lived in retrospect……!

  • Dalaina May

    We were in Peru for 5 years and planning to stick around for awhile longer. Then we got back to Peru after a home assignment and found that the government had shut down our airstrip, which was our only access into our village. VERY long, tearful story short, we left 9 months later. And after this last year in the USA, we are headed to Asia. Never thought it would happen, but so very excited. I love the line because it describes my current state exactly, “with great interruption comes great expectation.”

    • Marilyn Gardner

      I love your honesty about the tears. That was us leaving Cairo and I know those tears well. Love that you are headed out again — where in Asia? Cannot wait to follow more of your story.

  • Just finished a study of Jonah that mirrored this same concept. God often directs us in ways that seem like great interruptions. I suppose if we had His vision we would see these not as interruptions but rather as merely motions that pull us back on the path He has laid before us. But we don’t have His vision, and I am so easily distracted by the myriad of things around me.

    I never expected to be living in a foreign country. (I believe the exact phrase I used was “over my dead body.” HA!) And then after we got here, I fell in love with it all. We’ve been here two years and now maybe God is redirecting us again? Just when I feel like I am starting to get the hang of this… which is maybe the point. I definitely *need* God a whole lot more here then I ever did before. Even though He is taking us back “home” we will embark on the journey of support-raising for the first time ever, which is definitely an area where I will need God more than ever before. Yikes!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Those ‘over my dead body’ phrases get me in deep trouble every single time! Ha. I just read the Jonah story again last week. Every time I read it something else shouts out at me. What is the study you did?

      • It was Priscilla Shirer’s “Life Interrupted” study of Jonah 🙂

        • Marilyn Gardner

          Thank you!! Looking it up

  • Dee Sutton

    I was interrupted 7 years ago, and we are on a journey to be completely interrupted by God. I gave up a good job, because God told me to walk by faith. I started the journey of Bible College, studying Intercultural ministry. I have just finished my research project in an area that I would never have believed in my wildest dreams. God keeps saying, stay on track. I know what we think and feel is nothing short of a miracle. I never wanted to go to Asia, and in the last 7 years its become our other home. We know the next move will be a big one, and so do those around us. You cant keep just going short term when the dreams are so real when you come home, and you feel your being tugged. But it will be in Gods timing, not our own……God is interrupting my husband at the moment, so waiting and praying and learning is what we do in the mean time.
    I needed this post, and love this site, thanks for sharing.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Your words “You can’t just keep going short term when the dreams are so real….your being tugged…” Yes! That’s where I find myself right now. Thank you for sharing your story. It resonates with what is happening with my husband and me. So glad you connect with the site..I feel the same way.

  • Garage sale – check. Photo project – check. House for sale (new lightbulbs) – check. Still working on long-term arrangements for the pets :(. Announcements, goodbyes, plans…. Currently on an 8 week vision/preparation trip as a part of our Great Interruption. God is good. Thank you for this community of people who “get it.” Much needed and it is a blessing.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      And the untold number of things you didn’t even include I bet…occasional panics- check. Brave face around some people – check. Visas and tickets – check. Call my mom and cry- check. So much grace to you. And yes. The great interrupter, in words taken from Narnia is “not safe, but he’s good/ he’s good I tell you.” Thanks Mr. Beaver:)

  • Colleen Connell Mitchell

    We have been interrupted a number of times. But the interruption that led us to our current life and ministry in Costa Rica was the death of our sixth son. Suddenly, life was at a dead stop and all we had to hold on to moving forward was the compelling will of God, which was suddenly saying, “What matters now? Do you want to live what matters? I will take you there. Follow me.” I’ll admit, I was angry at Him. I didn’t want Him to ask anything more of me. I felt like it was unfair that everyone else just got their happy little lives and I got this roller coaster ride. But there was no denying the Great Interrupter was at work and we were not ones not to follow His lead. We have had a hard, rewarding, healing, growing, stretching three years. But the one thing I know for sure is that we have gone where He has called and He has been faithful. But I’ll be honest when I say I hope He stays busy interrupting other people for a while.

    • Hi Colleen. I appreciate you admitting your anger. As I have been listening to the interruptions coming down the track in my life I have noticed (with the help of a wise counselor friend) my tendency to classify some emotions as “bad” and promptly begin to stuff those away, deny them, and mask them over. Yep. I know, unhealthy. I lied to myself saying that this is what others expected and needed out of me. Yes, I know, it was a god-complex cake with control freak icing on top. Toxic. I have in no way arrived. Your comment touched me. Your honesty. Your passion. And the fact that I have come to know the virtual you – a kind woman full of overflowing joy and authenticity. Thank you for the reminder that anger is okay, God can take it.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      My heart stopped a moment with this one. I am so grateful for your honesty and your words.

    • Jill Colorfulheart

      as a fellow mama who has walked through the death of a child, I applaud your speaking openly of your anger as you worked through things with God. Far too often those “bad” emotions are hidden away and others feel like failures in their faith-walk when they experience things like anger, questioning, etc. (And, of course, my heart goes out to you as you continue walking the grieving journey that is never really “over”)

  • Emily

    I moved to Karamoja, Uganda as an MK teacher in 2011 and last summer when I came back to the States for an 8 week furlough I found out I wouldn’t be able to return. I was devastated. But it was all in God’s plan because I met my husband-to-be and we are now making plans to move to Delhi, India as church planters. He is Indian and feels called to stay there near his hometown, where there is such a need… I have always felt called to missions and I’ve felt drawn to India for years, so I’m excited to go! It has been a wonderful interruption!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Emily- I was deported from Pakistan while working as a nurse when I was 24. I was completely wrecked. I came to the states terrified in the middle of winter. I met my husband that January and life has never been the same. Thanks for your story — for sharing it in this space.

  • I waited to the end of the day to come back and read the comments, Marilyn. Wow. I feel like I have just been to a cozy support group. It’s like all the stories washed over me a reassuring cascade of God’s whisper, “See, you are not alone. I am in this.” Over the last couple of weeks unconnected people have asked me pointedly, after hearing some of my situation right now, “So where do you see God in all this?” I made myself tell them what I know in my heart to be true, but would like to deny for so many reasons, “This is all an answer to prayers of desperation years ago when I told God that it can’t go on like this.” Now that I am watching this all happen I know for certain He is in the middle of this. First, because people keep reminding me of it. Second, because God in his special ways reminds my of it every day. Finally, because I know I would have NEVER devised the plan to go the way it’s going; so He must know what he is doing, higher thoughts and all that jazz. This post has ministered to me from the early morning until the dark of the late evening. Thank you for obeying. Thank you for baring your soul – for I know this all comes from a very tender and vulnerable place in your life right now. Thank you for being a friend. Peace.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Angie-you know how we wanted to get cold delicious caffeinated drinks together and talk until no more words would come last week? Can we do it again this week?! I can’t thank you enough for hearing God’s voice and working to create this space.

  • DeAnna

    This is worded perfectly as to how I’ve seen our lives changed, but didn’t have the finesse in describing it. Thank you for how you worded this. We were living the American dream, had purchased our “dream home”, were driving vehicles within 5 years age of manufacturing, our oldest was starting Kindergarten in a wonderful school district, we were involved in our home church in several ways, I’m a planner and had a 20 year life plan mapped out and my husband had a stable, well paid position at the organization he worked at. The Great Interrupter came a knocking. There are times I’ve pouted and grieved the things that have been interrupted, however, I know in my mind and heart His ways and being obedient to Him is the best, even when it hurts. We sold everything we owned, I grieved the interrupted life plan and we started walking down on a strange, unknown path. We spent one year in language study (Humility 101), which was humbling and difficult from going to corporate supervisor position and university instructor to babbling like an infant. After language study, we journeyed to an unknown land where we’ve been the last four years – Cameroon (West Central Africa). It’s been tough in Cameroon, our youngest had a severe injury from a freak accident and ended up with a partial amputation. There are days I question the Great Interrupter with “Why us?” Here we are and we are trying to be obedient to what He has in store for us.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Oh Deanna- wow. If this is how the Great Interrupter teaches Humility 101 I don’t think I’d want 102. I can’t even tell you how this affected me this morning. As someone who is heading toward a major interruption please know that your story is a tremendous example. I hate. Hate that it has had some brutal pieces- I love your heart for God that shines through the interruption onto the page.

  • AnneJ

    I am once again blessed by A Life Overseas. In our time of interruption, this community has been a life line. We left the only place we called home 1.5yrs ago to come to language school, and in 2 short weeks we head out to Niger. With 3 young children, I’m scared. And wonder what in the world I’m doing! Why am I doing this?! Thank you for this post, and the reminder that “when God as the Great Interrupter is involved, although it may not make sense to some, you are in a safety zone and your soul can rest in this knowledge.”

    • Richelle Wright

      Hi Anne~ 15 years ago, we headed to Niger with 4 young ones~ it is now the place I think of as home, even when it isn’t. Wish we could hop that plane with you. Prayers for these next few months…

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Anne- I love that Richelle knows thus journey you are headed on. How well I remember packing up our house and bags and within 2 weeks heading to Cairo with little ones. Our world had been do interrupted we could hardly breathe. May God give you rest and peace between the inevitable chaos and panic.

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  • A Hall

    I so get this…..it’s my life right now. And with the great interruption comes many wonderful blessings….some wrapped in wonderful packages and some hidden in dark clouds….but all wonderful, none the less. Thank you for sharing this and giving me encouragement during this last month and a half before we depart for our new lives in Africa!!!!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Thinking of you as you do all the things mentioned in this post…..and so many more!

  • Jill Colorfulheart

    We have been interrupted many times over the years…(called to missions, moving for seminary, back to “real life”, called to ministry, quitting jobs, church closes, back to “real life”, cancer, death of son, on the road in an RV, called to missions and actually going, etc). The most recent interruption has been hard to accept. We had FINALLY gotten to be in a cross-cultural mission setting (for almost 3 years), when it ended abruptly for significant lack of funding. So we are back “home” again, wishing we were somewhere else. But the Great Interrupter has made it clear that THIS is where we belong, at least for now…

  • Shari Mottram

    I am new here, just now getting caught up on the reading….and am blessed to tears. I love it here. I thank God I was invited to check this out.

    This post speaks volumes to me. I can’t tell you all the ways my life has been interrupted by a Sovereign God. The most recent being that after a long hard marriage, praying, hoping, believing, I ended up being a divorced Christ-follower. It seemed so contradictory to me. It totally knocked the wind out of me. But in the midst of it… God. I knew I was in the right place. I grieved each thing as it came. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I bought my own little home, and lived a comfortable life, working an office management job I loved, and ministering (unofficially) to women in the evenings. All my spare time was the Lord’s. But my daily thought was that the home/car/job life didn’t satisfy my heart and soul. Besides my devotional times, I read and watched all the inspirational books and videos I could find. I read Kisses from Katie, Mama Heidi, and more, which only served to revive my passion for missions. Something I thought was now impossible at my age. Heidi Baker said when you look into the eyes of Jesus, it will wreck you. That became my prayer…to be wrecked for Jesus.

    Three years after becoming single again the Lord began to tug at me to “go”, to help. And He said Cambodia. So, here I am, working and teaching in Cambodia. Not with a big ministry, but just me and what the Lord brings me. Wrecked? You might say so. I never imagined such a thing in my life….being on the mission field, by myself, with such peace and grace it brings me to tears.

    The Great Interrupter…..oh yeah…and aren’t we eternally grateful for it! GLORY

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